Minister pulls out of science collaboration event in Jordan
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Minister pulls out of science collaboration event in Jordan

Ofir Akunis boycotts inaugural ceremony for new particle accelerator after Amman slams Israel for killing Jordanian stabber

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis addresses the Knesset plenum, April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis addresses the Knesset plenum, April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis pulled out of a ceremony in Jordan highlighting regional scientific cooperation hosted by King Abdullah II, saying Amman had “crossed a line” by condemning the killing by an Israeli policeman of a Jordanian man who was stabbing him repeatedly in the head and neck.

Akunis on Monday night announced his withdrawal from the inauguration event for a new particle accelerator. On Tuesday, he told Army Radio that there is a limit to what Israel is prepared to put up with and Jordan’s response to the incident had gone beyond it.

“A country can’t take blow after blow and show restraint,” Akunis said. “Now and then a country needs to make a diplomatic protest. It is the least that can be done; we aren’t breaking the rules.”

The ceremony to open the so-called SESAME accelerator was to include ministers from countries involved in the groundbreaking collaborative regional project, including those of Israel, Iran, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, Pakistan, and Bahrain. Israel has invested some NIS 40 million ($11.2m) in the project, Army Radio said.

An employee from SESAME stands next to the particle accelerator in Allan, Jordan. (Sharing Knowledge Foundation)
An employee from SESAME stands next to the particle accelerator in Allan, Jordan. (Sharing Knowledge Foundation)

“The scientific project is important, the peace with Jordan is very important, but standing up for the truth is most important,” said Akunis, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Asked if he had conferred with Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, over the diplomatic snub and message, Akunis said “everyone who needs to know was informed,” but that it was “my decision and my responsibility.”

On Saturday, Amman slammed the killing earlier in the day of the Jordanian attacker — who was filmed stabbing an Israeli policeman multiple times before he was shot by his victim — as “a heinous crime.” Jordan demanded details about the incident from the Israeli government.

In response, Netanyahu lambasted Amman’s “outrageous” statement, while demanding that Jordan condemn terror attacks on Israelis. “It’s time for Jordan to stop playing this double game,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “Just as Israel condemns terror attacks in Jordan, Jordan must condemn terror attacks in Israel. Terror is terror wherever it is.”

Police released security camera footage of the attack in the streets of the Old City. In it, the officer can be seen walking down the street when he is violently assailed by knife-wielding 57-year-old Muhammad Abdullah Salim al-Kassji, a Jordanian national who had entered Israel a few days earlier. The officer was hospitalized with moderate injuries to the head and neck.

Israel, is one of the founding partners in the Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) project, begun in 2002 under the auspices of UNESCO and aimed at promoting regional cooperation through scientific partnership.

Once operational, SESAME will begin its activities by studying air pollution in the Jordan Valley as well as cancer research. It is the first particle accelerator to be powered by renewable energy supplied by a purpose-built solar power station.

Akunis said that although he wouldn’t attend the ceremony, Israel would continue to participate in the SESAME project. While noting that “science can be a bridge to build ties with other countries,” the minister stressed that this would not happen with Iran, one of the other countries involved in SESAME, as long as Tehran maintains its policy of seeking to wipe out Israel.

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